Even after the implementation of laws and harsh penalties to curb DUI, San Clemente still reports several DUI cases daily. Most people in this area do not know how severe this offense is until they are convicted. In this article, attorneys from Orange County DUI Attorney explain what California law governing DUI, the DUI process, punishment, and legal defenses. Also, if you have been arrested for DUI in San Clemente, do not hesitate to contact us. We are an experienced law firm, which boasts a solid defense strategy that may lead to case dismissal, reduction, or a win.
Definition of Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
According to the laws of California State, driving while intoxicated means operating a vehicle when impaired by drugs, alcohol, or both. Common DUI convictions involve operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that exceeds the standard legal limit. California standard legal BAC limits are:
- .01% or more for underage drivers (under 21 years)
- .04% or more for drivers operating commercial vehicles
- .08% or more for non-commercial adult drivers (drivers that are 21 years and above who drive non-commercial vehicles)
Laws Prohibiting DUI
Generally, DUI is prohibited under the California Vehicle Code (VC) 23152. Under this Vehicle Code, we have several subsections prohibiting specific types of DUI. Any person caught drunk-driving will be tried under one or more of these laws. Therefore, if arrested for DUI in San Clemente, it is critical to hire a San Clemente DUI Attorney that is conversant with these subsections for you to have a chance of winning. The subsections include:
- VC 23152a- Usually, this VC does not require any evidence of the level of your BAC. It involves driving while intoxicated in a way that your physical and mental abilities are distorted, hindering you from driving as a sober driver would.
- VC 23152b- This subsection prohibits you from driving with a BAC of 0.08% or more. Here, the prosecutor doesn’t need to prove you were intoxicated to be convicted. What matters is your BAC measured 0.08% or more.
- VC 23152c- This law forbids you to operate a vehicle if you are addicted to any drugs.
- VC 23152d-This subsection prohibits commercial drivers from driving with a BAC of 0.04% or more.
- VC 23152e- This prohibits driving a passenger in a taxi with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.04% or more.
- VC 23152f- This law prohibits you from driving while intoxicated with any drug.
- VC 23152g- This prohibits driving while intoxicated with both drugs and alcohol.
The DUI Court Process
Mostly, DUI arrests in San Clemente take place at a checkpoint or when you get stopped by traffic police. When you stop, the police officer will request to take a breathalyzer test and do a field sobriety test. If the field sobriety and breathalyzer test results suggest that you are intoxicated, the officer will put you under arrest. He/she will then take you to a hospital, jail, or police station and request you again to submit to a breath, blood, or urine test. Note that the law compels you to submit to any test required of you after an arrest. If you refuse to take the tests, you may face a mandatory suspension of your driver’s license for a year and stricter penalties.
If you were arrested for a misdemeanor offense, the officer would release you shortly after booking. But if it was a DUI causing an accident or a felony DUI, you may be required to make bail. When getting released, the arresting officer should issue you with two documents. One is a temporary license (pink), and the other is a citation that states you will present yourself in court. Usually, your driver’s license is confiscated and mailed to the California DMV. In case you are an out of California resident and get arrested for drunk-driving in Santa Clemente, the officers here cannot seize your license.
The law has made it possible for DUI arrestees to immediately obtain an IID restricted license through an application. IID stands for Ignition Interlock Device. It refers to a breathalyzer which prevents any vehicle from starting if it senses alcohol. The license allows you to keep on using your vehicle without restrictions, provided you have an IID installed in your car. The period for which you will use an IID license is based on your drunk-driving history.
The DMV Process
After an arrest and confiscation of your license, you have until ten days to call the DMV and request a DMV administrative hearing. Failure to which, you won’t be allowed that right again, and your driving privileges will automatically be suspended after the 30 days of the temporary license validity. Hiring a San Clemente DUI Attorney is beneficial to you since he or she can demand the hearing instead. Usually, this is the best way since the attorney can plan for the hearing to happen on a date that favors you. For instance, you may get adequate preparation time.
Generally, it is your attorney that attends the DMV hearing proceedings for you. The hearing officer may request you to appear at the hearing or not. Your attorney’s key objective at this hearing is to argue the hearing officer into not suspending your license. Still, he/she can also use this hearing as a chance to gather proof that may be useful in the criminal court.
For instance, the attorney could subpoena the calibration and maintenance logs of the breathalyzer. These often reveal a record of inaccurate readings and malfunctions. Also, the arresting officer may be subpoenaed to testify and evoke testimony on errors in the DUI investigation or inadequate training.
When the hearing concludes, the hearing officer reviews the evidence presented before him/her and issues findings in writing. The results are usually sent to you via mail within thirty days. If those findings are positive, your driving privileges won’t be suspended. And if the findings are negative, the license suspension takes effect after a few days of getting the findings. Note that the DMV will not suspend your privilege to drive in case the findings are positive, but the license may still be suspended if you get convicted in court.
Also, note that DMV administrative hearings only take place in cases to do with DUI of alcohol. In case you get arrested for DUI of drugs (e.g., marijuana, Vicodin, and Ambien), no DMV administrative hearing will be conducted. However, if you are convicted in a criminal court of DUI of drugs, the conviction may trigger a license suspension.
Usually, most arrestees whose BAC is more than 0.08% face two misdemeanor DUI charges. That is, regular DUI as per VC 23152a and operating a vehicle with excessive BAC as per VC 23152b.
Most likely, your San Clemente DUI Attorney can attend the court proceedings for you, provided there is no hearing in which you must testify. Another instance where you can be required to attend the proceedings is if your DUI case moves to trial. Mostly, DUI cases have many court dates that are spread over a long period (several months). It is at this time that your attorney files motions, collects proof, and negotiates with the prosecution and judge t have your charges reduced or dismissed.
If your lawyer, the prosecutor, and judge reach an agreement that requires you to plead guilty, your case ends in one of these ways:
- Presenting yourself in court and personally pleading guilty to the judge.
- Your attorney having you sign certified documents outside of the court, which he/she brings before the court, and executes the plea deal for you. These notarized documents are known as Thal waiver.
In case the parties do not reach an agreement, then your case proceeds to trial. Often, judges and prosecutors offer better plea deals once a case is at this point. This is because several cases may be awaiting trial, and there are fewer courtrooms to hold them. Additionally, issues in the evidence presented by the prosecutor become more apparent when a case is scrutinized further.
Every drunk-driving conviction has license suspension as a penalty. However, you can continue to drive without limitations if you have an IID installed in your car.
Levels of DUI in San Clemente and Their Penalties
DUI charges come in many forms. Depending on your past drunk-driving convictions and the facts of your case, you can be charged with the following DUI offenses.
First DUI offense
A first offense DUI is charged when you get arrested drunk-driving, and you do not have any other record of DUI. This is a misdemeanor offense whose penalties include:
- Up to $1000 in fines
- Up to six months in jail
- Up to five years of summary probation
- Six months of license suspension by the court
- DMV license suspension to up to four months
- DUI school program for up to nine months
Subsequent offenses include a second, third, and fourth offense DUI. DUI is a priorable offense, which means the next offense has harsher penalties compared to the previous one. For instance, a second DUI offense has more stringent penalties than the first offense. Third and fourth DUI offense penalties include designation as a habitual traffic offender by the DMV.
DUI causing injury
DUI causing injury is a wobbler offense in San Clemente. This means the prosecutor may choose to charge you with a felony or misdemeanor depending on your criminal record and facts of the case. If convicted of a misdemeanor, the penalties will be:
- Summary probation for a maximum of five years
- Up to a one year sentence in county jail
- A fine of up to $5,000
- DUI School program for three, eighteen, or thirty months
- Restitution to the injured victims
- Mandatory Installation of IID for six months
- License suspension for one year
For a felony DUI causing injury, the penalties will be:
- Restitution to the injured victims
- Designation as a habitual traffic offender by the DMV for up to three years
- A fine of up to $5000
- A strike on your criminal record as per the Three Strike’s Laws.
- Mandatory installation of an IID for up to three years
- License suspension
- DUI school program for up to thirty months
- Up to a ten years sentence in state prison. You may also get an additional & consecutive one to six years of a prison sentence based on the number of victims that were injured and the degree of their injuries.
DUI Legal Defenses
The defenses to a DUI charge fall under three categories:
- Your driving was not impaired
- You were not actually under the influence
- The arresting officer did not follow appropriate procedures.
As a skilled San Clemente DUI Attorney would say, a drunk-driving arrest doesn’t necessarily mean a conviction. You can prevent the life-changing DUI penalties by fighting the charges using a solid defense strategy. Legal defense to DUI charges in San Clemente include:
Objective intoxication symptoms do not automatically mean you are under the influence
Your attorney can challenge the prosecutor if he/she uses physical intoxication symptoms to prove that you were driving while intoxicated. How you appear physically matters a lot in your drunk-driving investigation. The arresting officer will, with no doubt, attest that you were driving while intoxicated since you had:
- Slurred speech
- Watery, red eyes
- A flushed face
- An unstable weight
- A strong alcoholic odor on your breath
These objective intoxication signs are all on a printed arrest drunk-driving arrest form. The San Clemente police department and other peace enforcement agencies use this form when making an arrest. With this form, an arresting officer can check if you have displayed these symptoms and will need no further elaboration.
An experienced DUI attorney can successfully defend you against drunk-driving charges by disputing the prosecutor’s claims of intoxication signs. He/she can present other explanations that may have made you show those symptoms. For example, conditions like a cold, eye irritation, allergies, and fatigue may all lead to one having red eyes.
The arresting officer did not follow the right procedure
Failure of the arresting officer to follow the appropriate process when arresting you is a solid defense against your DUI case. A DUI investigation in San Clemente should be done with adherence to procedures to safeguard you from officer misconduct. For instance,
- The officer must follow Title 17 regulations and procedures.
- The police should have probable cause to pull you over, arrest you, and conduct a DUI investigation.
- The officer should read to you your Miranda rights before interrogating you for DUI.
- The arresting officer has to conduct a proper 15 minutes observation.
If the law enforcement officer violated any of the above protections, your San Clemente DUI Attorney is supposed to demand a suppression hearing. This hearing serves to:
- Strike off any proof that was not properly obtained.
- Give your attorney a pre-trial chance to find any weakness in the prosecutor’s case and convince the judge to reduce or drop the DUI charges.
Challenging the field sobriety tests
If you get charged with a drunk-driving offense, the prosecutor’s proof may include field sobriety test results. If this is the case, your attorney can challenge the results as a defense to your DUI. Often, the prosecution team heavily relies on field sobriety tests in trying a DUI case. This team always almost testifies that your performance on the tests was poor. Thus, it concludes that you are guilty of DUI.
Your DUI attorney can explain how coordination and balance during field sobriety tests could be affected by:
- One’s natural physical coordination
- Flat feet
- Your clothing, etc.
Rising mouth alcohol resulted in falsely high BAC results
Falsely higher blood alcohol concentration results can also be a valid DUI defense. This is mainly if you operated a vehicle with a BAC of .08% or more under VC 23152b. Before administering a breath test, the arresting officer has to observe you continuously for 15 minutes. This is to ensure that during that period, you don’t put anything that contains alcohol in your mouth. The alcoholic substances may include drinks, mouthwash, mouth spray, and medicines like cough syrup and homeopathic medications.
Also, the officer must ensure that you don’t burp, regurgitate, or belch. This is because doing so could draw alcohol into your mouth from the stomach, creating residual mouth alcohol. Residual mouth alcohol is a common legal defense to drunk-driving charges.
The correctness of a breathalyzer depends on its measurement of lung air. However, if you blow into the breathalyzer when you have alcohol in your mouth, the alcohol gets mixed with the air from the lungs. This may lead to your BAC registering falsely high.
Your high BAC was due to a medical condition
Experienced DU defense lawyers know that health conditions like diabetes can be valid defenses to DUI charges. Certain diets, too, can be used as defenses. Our bodies usually obtain energy from carbohydrates. However, under different conditions, the body is required to break down the stored fats for energy. These conditions include:
- Low carbohydrate diet
- High protein diet
When burning fats, the liver generates harmful byproducts known as ketones. These products are chemically the same as isopropyl alcohol that is present in solvents like acetone.
A little of the ketones are excreted through the breath. As a result, ketones can trick the breathalyzer. This can result in falsely higher BAC results on a breathalyzer test, leading to an unfair drunk-driving charge.
Find a San Clemente DUI Attorney Near Me
There is no doubt that you have to undergo a long DUI process before being convicted or your charges being dropped. Along this process, there are several factors you have to adhere to, lest your punishment increases. You cannot do this on your own. You need to have an experienced DUI attorney by your side to tell you how you should handle yourself to avoid a conviction. Additionally, the attorney may help you beat the charges by preparing a strong defense. Attorneys at the Orange County DUI Attorney will help you in every step of your DUI case, including ensuring you have a fair trial. Our offices are located all over Orange County, including San Clemente. If you need an attorney, contact us at 949-377-2280, and we will assign one to you right away.